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Raising the bar: Why now is the best time to qualify in Higher Rights

Four years after it was due to come into force, the Bar Standards Board has announced its decision to retire the Quality Assurance Scheme for Advocacy (QASA). Speaking at the Westminster Legal Policy Forum in November 2017, BSB Director General Dr Vanessa Davies described the change in direction as necessary in conforming with the regulator’s new approach of ensuring confidence.

Originally proposed in 2011, QASA was a joint scheme developed by the BSB in collaboration with the Solicitors Regulation Authority and CILEx. In 2013, it was finally approved by the Legal Services Board. Under this scheme, advocates wishing to exercise Higher Rights of Audience would be obliged to apply for accreditation.

By introducing QASA, the BSB hoped to tackle concerns raised by judges over the quality of advocacy – but it was not to be.

QASA was met with sustained opposition from barristers and solicitors, who raised concerns over whether plea-only advocates (POAs) need to undergo judicial evaluation as part of the Quality Assurance Scheme for Advocates (QASA) for criminal law specialists.

Following an unsuccessful judicial review and legal challenges to the Supreme Court, the scheme was shelved for further review. During this time, the BSB has continued to evaluate its approach on regulation and quality assurance to reflect changes in the provision of legal services.

Commenting on the BSB’s decision, bar chair Sir Andrew Burns expressed the regulator’s commitment to quality assurance:

“The Board now believes that QASA no longer fits within the BSB’s regulatory approach. We have therefore decided, after much careful deliberation, that it should not be implemented. This in no way should be seen as a reduction in the BSB’s commitment to ensure that the public has access to good quality barristers. It is rather a reflection of our willingness to adapt and change our regulatory approach so as best to deliver our strategic objectives.”

In conjunction with this, Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) chief executive Paul Philip said:

“We have been in discussion with BSB and the other regulators and understand their position. We are undertaking an additional programme of work to explore how best to ensure high standards of advocacy, and plan to publish a position paper in spring.”

However, while the decision to scrap QASA symbolises a change in direction, it does not represent the end of quality assurance in the legal industry. Solicitors looking to make the leap into litigation should bear in mind that a qualification in Higher Rights is still required for those who wish to represent their clients in both civil and criminal courts.

Indeed, it is likely there will be changes to the qualification in the future, so seeking the opportunity to qualify while under the current regulation (and recognised format) sooner rather than later – after any new standards are implemented – will invariably stand you in better stead.

According to the SRA, budding litigators should be able to identify key legal, factual and evidential issues, understand the opponent’s case and devise a clear strategy in defending their client. Successful candidates will have therefore undertaken thorough training to develop a full understanding of the elements involved in litigation and advocacy.

Despite the demise of the QASA, now is a better time than ever to train and qualify as a solicitor advocate. Gaining Higher Rights of Audience will allow your legal career to enter new grounds, developing your skills in civil or criminal defence as well as climbing the ranks in your current firm. Our supplementary course is designed to equip candidates for work in the Higher Courts by teaching the essential skills needed to conduct more effective advocacy in both civil and criminal courts. By undertaking this short yet comprehensive training programme, solicitor advocates-to-be will not only benefit from enhanced expertise of evidence and ethics, but an increased earning potential and a greater reputation within the profession.

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